Friday, September 29, 2006

ON TEACHING: Embarrassing a Student

Yesterday I reverted to one of my oldest and worst habits as a teacher: I embarrassed a student. A girl turned in a paragraph which seemed to have been carelessly done, and I immediately called her attention to it in front of her classmates. I didn’t speak disrespectfully or angrily, but I’m sure it was clear to the other students that I was displeased with her. I then asked her to come out into the hall with me, embarrassing her further, where I firmly (and perhaps too strongly) lectured her about her work habits. I’m sure she was totally mortified as she walked back into the classroom under the gaze of her friends. I realized almost immediately that I had made a significant mistake, and as soon as I could I looked up the word “embarrass” in a dictionary. Interestingly, I found that it derives from the Latin word imbarrare, which means “to block” – and that is precisely what I did by embarrassing my student. Instead of opening the door to learning for her (which is my job as a teacher), I closed it. Instead of removing obstacles that stand in the way of her education, I set up another one. The only reason I can find for my asinine behavior is simple mindlessness. I just wasn’t thinking. I had drifted into an absentminded state during the class, and before I knew it, I had blurted out some foolish words and thoroughly embarrassed a student. May it never, ever happen again.

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